Tag Archives: poetry

Things I am up to

The last few months have been a little bit crazy for me, with numerous changes to my day jobs. I am at present publicist for two authors, two publishing houses and a community venue. I’m doing newsletter and press work for a local group focused on sustainability. I’m doing evening work at events as well. Alongside this, I’m the colourist for the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine and we’re working on the next book. Here’s some art from that:

I’ve had a Patreon page for more than a year now, and it’s helped me keep moving with my own creativity, and it helps as an income stream as well. Thanks to Patreon support, I spent what spare time I had in September putting together a collection of poetry – Mapping the Contours. I also coloured the cover. This is a collection about relationship with landscape. I had it printed locally in the end so the only way to get copies is via Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

I have two cunning plans following on from this. Firstly, I’m going to serialise a Hopeless Maine novella on my Patreon page for people at the Dustcat level. This is a story set before the graphic novel series and mostly following the exploits of Annamarie Nightshade; resident witch on the island. I shall be putting up a chapter a month. It seemed a good way to share the story, and I will be publishing it by other means, eventually. If you’d like to be able to read that, saunter over to https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I setup Patreon with the idea that I’d write new things every month by way of content. Serialising an otherwise unavailable book of course isn’t a ‘new thing’ but, it will help me find the time and energy to work on another small book. What I plan to do next is a small book of elemental meditations. As with Mapping the Contours, Patreon supporters will get an e-copy. If you sign up at this point for Patreon, you can of course wander through the old posts and pick up your own e-version. You can sign up for a month, read everything that’s up there already and then leave, should you want, but you won’t get the novella that way!

For the really dedicated, there’s a Glass Heron level with quarterly physical postings. I’ve just sent hard copies of Mapping the Contours to my Glass Herons.  When I get the little meditations book together, I’ll send that out, too, and then that too will go to Etsy so anyone else who wants one can get copies.

I try to give away as much as I can (this blog, what I do on youtube, informal mentoring, volunteer work). But, I’m not independently wealthy, and the practical reality is that if I have to use most of my time and energy on bill paying jobs, I don’t create as much. This last year, Patreon support has really helped me keep going creatively. It is both an incentive and a vote of confidence. If you love someone and they have a Patreon page, just giving them a dollar a month can mean a great deal. When lots of people do that, creators can pay their bills – and many do depend on this income stream to keep afloat. It’s also a gesture of belief and valuing, and that makes a lot of odds too.

Subscribing to this blog is also a gesture of support and valuing that I really appreciate, and knowing there are lots of people who want to read my ramblings has kept me blogging steadfastly for years. Thank you for taking an interest in what I do.

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Poetry as a tool of entitlement

She was sat on a bench in a public space. She’d eaten her lunch and was looking at her phone. He came and sat at the other end of the bench. I was on the grass some yards away with other people. I sort of know him, but I don’t know his name.

Next thing we know, his voice is raised and he’s reading her his poetry. She’s hunched over her phone. I watch for a while, trying to work out how uncomfortable she is and whether I should go over. He moves to reciting poetry. It was not the sort of thing I think a person would be happy to have forced on them during their lunch break, unsolicited.

He starts telling her how to find him online. This may well be because she’s still staring intently at her phone. I do not know what she said because her voice was low and she’d not said much. He’s pretty loud. My suspicion is that she was not eager to look up more of his work on the internet.

She leaves, and I am relieved. She could have left at any time, she’d not been physically cornered and it was a public space. If he’d followed her I probably would have got involved. I think she was going back to work. However, she should have been free to have her lunch, sit on her bench and play with her phone. Fair enough to ask if someone wants to hear a poem, I guess, but not fair to keep grinding them out. Everything about her body language said that she wanted him to shut up and leave her alone, but he didn’t notice that, or didn’t care.

Being alone in a public space is not an invitation for an approach. Women are socially conditioned to be polite and not cause offence and to listen to men – I could write a great deal about the mechanics of this, but that’s not for today. Women don’t always feel safe antagonising men – even in the middle of the day in public spaces. If you give a man an excuse to get angry with you it can and does turn into verbal abuse and physical assault. Anyone who has previously experienced that won’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to stand up to a pushy man who wants their attention.

Of course in theory having a man recite poetry to you is romantic. In practice, if you don’t know the man, it might instead be weird and creepy. In this case, poetry was functioning as a monologue (manalogue) – great long stretches of the man saying his thing, where it would be rude to interrupt him because it’s a poem. It wasn’t a conversation. He wanted to speak and be listened to – her only role was to listen and approve. It’s the traditional role poetry casts women in – woman as muse and audience, man as speaker and poet. Silence and applause on one side, everything else on the other. Anyone who has read The White Goddess may remember that Robert Graves was very keen on this distribution of labour.

Writing poems does not entitle anyone to attention. Claiming to be a poet does not entitle anyone to interrupt someone else’s lunch break. It was an illustration of entitlement in action. It was difficult to know how to respond. While it was all happening, I made eye contact with the victim. I hope it reassured her to know that she was seen, and I hope I managed to express concern.

One of the things that put me off intervening, was that I do sort of know the guy. He turns up at things I go to and he’s been weird with me and I don’t want to invite more of it. Solidarity-fail on my part, but at the same time, a keen awareness that it shouldn’t have to be my job to sort out the entitled behaviour of a creepy poet.

It’s the sort of behaviour that, in a film or a romance novel would have been portrayed as wild, dashing, exciting – and the woman would probably have been swept off her feet. In real life, it’s unsettling, inappropriate and she didn’t want to know. We need to stop telling stories about how women love to be the passive recipients of such advances.


What’s the point of poetry?

A guest blog from Ziggy Dicks

In 2016 I started the Gloucester Poetry Society and sure enough there was an interest there but it was far from being what it is today; and still growing in scope.

I had a plan to unify people through words but wanted to create a forum that hadn’t been done before. I’d seen events, that had a small online presence and others with a strong online presence but little engagement. I saw a gap, so took the people I knew, introduced them to each other and created new working (and personal) friendships.

The way I did this was offering people opportunities to share, to perform and write. The aspects that didn’t draw interest I either discarded or waited for a more appropriate time to try, for example, workshops in the community which are now growing.

The trick was to focus on the positive and carry it in all activities but why poetry? Why not something else? Well frankly, I love poetry, know that it can enhance confidence through performance, can be used to assist people going through a difficult time and it’s entertaining too.

The point of poetry, is to show aspects of life that may be uncomfortable or wonderful or both. I wanted to reveal that all poetry is is a way of recording experience to be shared. All I’ve done is give people a place to share, whomever they are.

Is that the only point to poetry? Even if everything I write from this day in is drivel, which hopefully it won’t be, it has brought a community together, draws people to Gloucester.

It has been a great experience linking in with venues in Gloucester who have shown their belief in my project. It has enabled me to create a vast array of events including our Gloucester Poetry Festival in October.

All are welcome join us online in our Facebook group where we share work and ideas or you could join us at any of our events. Our attitude is ‘life is poetry’ so if there is something you would like to do with poetry and we can help, as a group, we will endeavour to help you.

We have our monthly Villanelles event at the Fountain Inn at West Gate Street Gloucester the last Thursday of the month. We have a generative workshop to start so even if you’ve never written before you can pick up some tips and after we have our poets performing, of which you could be if you wanted but there really is no pressure. We have many events throughout the year as well.

The Gloucester Poetry Festival in October and it is about hearing as many voices as possible (and having a good time) we’d love to see you there, It is a living art and is best experience first hand,

You can contact the team through our website
www.thegloucesterpoetrysociety.co.uk


Do not be seduced by Poets

If a poet courts you, he will bring

Bouquets of freshly gathered verses,

Dew drops still shining on the petals.

He will bring delicate confections

Sugar spun from devoted words.

He may speak of eternity, with grandiosity,

Bestow titles, announce virtues, describe

Hitherto unseen beauties. He might

Cherish and adore in rhyming couplets.

If he is truly serious, there may be

A sonnet.

Those linguistic displays of accomplishment

May persuade, lure or induce

And in the chocolate dipped satin of his words

You may miss the true meaning.

The poems are never about you.

The poems are expressions of his finer feelings.

He, the rare and precious one.

He, the miracle unfolding before you.

And you may be permitted to inspire him

A little.

And applaud him.

A lot.

Don’t ever imagine he was in love with you.

It was the passion for a well rounded line,

The ecstasy of a graceful metaphor.

He loved how he sounded when declaring

The timeless, boundless qualities of his love.

He loved the idea of being in love

With someone for whom he could write poems.

He was in love with the way those poems

So beautifully reflected his own glory.

You, my dear girl, were too real in the end.

Not an ephemeral wonder conjured from air

And water after all.

Not merely an empty vessel to be filled

With the sound of his words.

He fell out of love with you for that,

And writes lengthy, free form pieces now

About how majestic he is in his grief.


The people who live in your head

We all assemble ideas about the people around us. In normal circumstances, that’s a work in progress as we try to improve our insight and understanding. However, it doesn’t always go like that. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding every now and then a person whose imaginary me is so removed from anything I can recognise that it proves disturbing to deal with them.

They often feel moved to tell me what I’m ‘really like’, and what I’m really like tends to be damning. Most usually it revolves around being mean, selfish, self important and power hungry, usually with a side order of being needy, doing drama, over reacting and making no sense. I worry about who I am for people, so when this has come up, I’ve cross-referenced with others who know me. The majority of people I know are fine with me, and I tend to trust that. So, here’s a poem on the subject…

 

What the actual fuck?

 

You’ve done it now, you’ve looked at me

And so there grows inside your head

Some version of a Nimue

Based on some little thing I said.

 

A Nimue I can’t control

Who lives a life I cannot see

And does the things you thinks she does

And does not owe that much to me.

 

The Nimue inside your hear

Can bear the weight of your projection

Be the villain of your tale

Blamed for your feelings of dejection.

 

The Nimue inside your head

May crave a torrid love affair

And offer great, or ghastly things.

I do not know. I was not there.

 

Blame me for who you think I am

Rage ‘gainst what you think I do

The Nimue inside your head

Is mostly made of you.

 

But once I’ve taken residence

Uncanny things may come to pass.

Your inner me could act like me,

And kick your sorry arse.


Ghosting for Beginners – a review

Ghosting for Beginners is a poetry collection by Anna Saunders. I first encountered Anna about a month ago when she read at Piranha Poetry in Stroud. So I put up a hand to review her new anthology.

There’s great delicacy and precision in Anna’s writing. I very much like that about her work. If she talks about a walk, a day, a bird, it doesn’t seem like a generic one conjured up to make a point, but something specific and individual. She writes a lot about encounters between humans and nature, or humans in the context of nature.

There are a lot of ghosts in the collection. The title of the anthology comes from a poem of the same name about the modern oddity that is ghosting – when people disappear out of other people’s social media lives, usually in a dating context. It’s not the bravest way of breaking up with someone. Many of the other ghosts are more traditional hauntings. These, set alongside poems about extinction and climate change meant that for me, the collection had threads of loss and grief all the way through it. I read it as a deeply haunted piece of work – and I think the title of the collection is an invitation to do just that.

There’s also just a whisper of humour running through these poems. A ghost of a smile, if you will. A feeling that this is an author who can laugh at themselves and who has a keen sense of the absurdity in many situations.

If you hop over to the publisher’s website – http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/anna-saunders-gfb/4594255832 – you can read a selection of poems from the collection. What’s here is a good representation of the book as a whole, and if it speaks to you, you can dive right in and buy a copy. Which I can certainly recommend you consider doing.


The writings of Jonny Fluffypunk – reviewed

Jonny Fluffypunk is one of the many strange, colourful (and in this instance, stripey) contributors to Stroud being such an awesome place to live. I’ve seen him live repeatedly, and have finally got my hands on his published work.

The Sustainable Nihilist’s Handbook mixes poetry with short prose pieces. The poetry has the energy you’d expect from someone who does a lot of performance. Most of it is funny, but without becoming trivial. Surreal, surprising, uneasy. Mr Fluffypunk is the master of too much information, with confessions from his youth which may or may not be true but will leave you with some startling mental images. It’s a small book and does not take long to read, but unlike many poetry collections, it is the sort of thing you can just sit down and read cover to cover in one go.  I can heartily recommend it.

More here – http://burningeye.bigcartel.com/product/the-sustainable-nihilist-s-handbook-by-jonny-fluffypunk

 

Poundland Rimbaud is Jonny’s second collection and like the first, it contains a mix of poetry and prose. Unlike the first, it also has a steady supply of footnotes. Some of these add context and insights, some whip the rug out from under a poem’s metaphorical feet (I could get a joke about meter in here, but I’m resisting it). Again there’s the kind of comedy that comes from discomfort, over sharing, and a keen eye for the inherent ridiculousness of human beings. The last section of this book is a full script, with production notes for the one man show ‘Man up, Jonny Fluffypunk’. Having seen the show, I found this fascinating, but have no idea how it would read for someone innocent of the experience. In the printed version, the author lays bare the methods by which the audience is to be emotionally manipulated, and its not just about long, uncomfortable silences…

I thought the whole thing was brilliant, and highly readable – as with the first book I devoured it over a couple of sittings.

More here – http://burningeye.bigcartel.com/product/poundland-rimbaud

Jonny Fluffypunk talks in his work about poetry being dangerous, and about being personally dangerous. I can vouch for this, having mistakenly sat in the front row at one of his shows, and consequently had all of the poetry relating to unrequited teenage love directed towards me. She was plump, greasy, not conventionally attractive, and largely oblivious. I was considerably older and there was no scope for obliviousness. There’s been no point in my life when anything like that happened in a real way – it could only happen as a joke, requiring me to look into some personal voids I generally try to ignore. Live art is inherently risky, you never know what a poet might decide to do to you.


How to be a poet

Creativity starts long before you sit down with the tools to make a piece. For the sake of coherence, I’m going to focus in this post specifically on what needs to happen before a poem is written.

A poet needs a love for and skill with language – I would say more so than any other kind of writer. A poet needs to be alert to the sounds, shapes, and rhymes of words. They also need to be conscious of the implications and possibilities each word they use may hold. Sensitivity to language and to the way it can be used is something to be involved with every day.

Poems tend to be smaller than other forms of writing. They call for precision. To be precise, you have to know what you want to get across. To do that well, you need to understand what the most important features are, or what will most readily evoke it. That in turn requires paying attention.

I think I can tell the difference between a poet who had an idea and sat down to flesh it out, and a poet who starts from keen observation and then whittles it down into a piece. The second instance produces poems that are richer and more surprising, because there’s an alertness to detail that you can’t have unless you’ve been working on it all along.

Any experience has the potential for poetry in it. The person who lives in a state of awareness, noticing the details, the nuances, the processes, is well placed to draw on that wealth of experience.

The person who only looks at their own experience, and does so in a fairly superficial way, tends to write poetry charged only by the feeling of the moment. What they won’t necessarily know how to do is make that accessible to other people. If you work only at the surface, you get the hot anger and the cold resentment, soft feelings of love and hollow feelings of loss… but there are many, many poems out there that talk in superficial metaphors about common human experiences. To have something new to say, you need to know more than this.

Poets also need to be people who read poetry. Other reading certainly helps, but encountering – as text or performance – really good poetry makes a lot of difference. Poetry can take many forms, and exists in many cultures. The shape of the piece is often part of where it comes from and what it needs to say. What you’d try to express in a Japanese haiku is not what you’d be trying to express in Icelandic rap, which is not what you’d find in the rap styles of urban America. Slam poetry has its own rhythms and purposes, but has a different flavour to poetry inspired directly by beat poets. And so on, and so forth. Know the form you mean to write in, and get to know as many other forms as you can, because it all helps.

You should be able to read back your finished and edited poem and justify every word and comma in it. You should know why each is there and why it couldn’t possibly be replaced by some other word, or a colon. You should be confident that no word could be taken away without harming the whole and that equally, no word could be added, without it causing more harm than help. You should reach this point confident that your poem does what you intended it to do, and that a reader or listener will be affected in the right way by it.


The Soil Never Sleeps – a review

This is a poetry collection like nothing I have ever read before, and I’ve read a fair amount of poetry over the years. Poet Adam Horovitz visited pasture farms through the seasons. There were four farms in different parts of the UK, and the visits were in spring, autumn, winter and then summer, which is reflected in the structure of the book. This is poetry that goes far beyond the usual picturesque treatments of landscape. This is nature writing that goes far beyond what nature writing normally does. Intense, personal, specific and powerful, this is a truly remarkable book and one of those rare texts I think everyone should read.

The pasture farms in question all seek to work in harmony with the land, the soil, the grass, and as a consequence these are landscapes full of wildlife as well as the sheep and cows the farms focus on. It’s a demonstration of what small scale, responsible animal rearing means. This was entirely beyond my experience, and I learned a lot in practical terms. We don’t have a pristine landscape untouched by humans here in the UK, we have a landscape informed by thousands of years of human activity – including grazing herds. It’s something that can be done well, and there are many species that have evolved to exist in our meadows and pastures, if we don’t force them out.

There’s nothing preachy about these poems. Adam tells stories of life on the land, creatures encountered, experiences in landscapes, stories of soil and grass and bramble. Those stories invite us to see the pasture in an entirely new way, and that’s really exciting. It’s an eye opener.

Adam is certainly one of my favourite poets. His work is lyrical, emotionally affecting (but never heavy handed) reflective, and engaging. He’s always accessible. You don’t need to have read anything else, or studied anything. I’ve been in the fortunate position of hearing some of these poems read out loud, and they can be absorbed in a single hearing. You don’t have to sweat over the page to make sense of them. At the same time, the poems reward repeat encounters, opening up to you as you revisit them, as a friend might. It’s beautiful work.

I really appreciated the way in which these poems are so absolutely specific to time and place, to people and to creatures who emerge from the text as distinct individuals. This isn’t nature as backdrop. Nor is it nature or landscape as some kind of metaphor for inner human experiences. These are songs of soil and sheep, of cows and seasons, and as they unfold, they teach you why it is not enough to see landscape as backdrop and wildlife as metaphor. It’s a powerful, magical act of re-enchantment and of re-engagement with the world.

Adam has a rare knack for taking the language of the every day and making it sing, putting depth and meaning into words we may have become complacent about. Showing us how our own, every day language might be imbued with grace and substance.

The final section of the poems is the most overtly political, reflecting on the poet’s experience of land and farming, and the wider world. I think that’s vital at the moment. We can’t separate the personal from the political, or the land from the lawmakers intent on ravaging is as a resource. It is so easy to get demoralised about these thing, but Adam chooses to uplift and inspire, and we need more of this.

Listen to a poem here – https://soundcloud.com/resoundradio2017/adam-horovitz-the-soil-never-sleeps 

Buy the book here (and other places!) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Soil-Never-Sleeps-Poems-Horovitz/dp/1911587056


Polishing poetry

For many people, poetry hits the page in a rush of emotion and/or inspiration. Developing it beyond that point can feel a tad sacrilegious, and I remember it took me quite some time both to learn how to do it, and to be willing to do it. I’ve tried writing the kind of poetry that is tinkered out in a calmer and more intellectual way and I can’t honestly say I like the results. As writing poetry is something I do for myself, I don’t have to be workish about it, I can wait for the lightning bolt to strike.

My usual method (other methods no doubt exist and are just as valid) is to write in the heat of the moment, and then put the piece aside for a day or two. When I come back, I’ll read through and see how I feel about it. I then get in there line by line, and look hard at what I’ve created to see if it has any flaws that need fixing, or if it’s going in a direction and needs developing. I am rather prone to accidentally writing things that are almost sonnets, which may become actual sonnets on the second draft.

I look for word repetitions, and either swap new words in, or decide to take the repetition and make a feature of it. I check the line length and I take out any words that don’t need to be there, and I change any words that disrupt the flow of reading. If I’ve settled on a structure, I rework so that the poem fits the structure. I make sure that the rhythms don’t make it sound clunky and obvious. I look for opportunities to play with alliteration, and rhymes that aren’t at the ends of lines. I try and make sure it makes sense, not only to me, but to someone who has no idea what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote it.

I’ll look for clichés, mixed metaphors, weak similes. I’ll look at the tone and my language choices to make sure they align fairly well. That’s a particularly subjective process, I think. The mood of an individual word and the mood created by a set of words doesn’t always come across as you intend. I’ve found this repeatedly with a poet friend of mine whose heartfelt anger always reads like cool cynicism to me.

I may read it out loud, because this is a really good way of spotting anything that doesn’t have a good ring to it. I may read it to someone else to test it for sense and impact. I’ll look at the layout on the page and consider whether that supports the mood, readability, coherence, and I’ll move things round to try and help that. My final sweep is usually to sort out the punctuation, which I put down as a guide to how I want it read out loud.

Writing a poem is only ever half of a process, and the other half happens when you share it. No matter what you do to try and control the impact of the poem, there will always be ways people can interpret it that you didn’t intend. Even if you avoid metaphors and similes and try for the clearest communication you can, people understand different words in different ways. For me, this is part of the joy of the thing. What I mean, and what someone else hears will never perfectly align, because language is an imperfect form of communication. I’m aiming for the closest alignment I can get, relaxed about the inevitability of people hearing things, or reading things, I did not intend them to find.